Sunday, February 18, 2007

Real Missionaries

A few weeks ago, while waiting outside of our Church for Josie to arrive with Dietrich so that I could help her up the stairs with the stroller, a man who attends our Church engaged me in conversation. He is not a "baptized member" of our Church, regularly refuses to actually enter the room where our Church meets, and under no circumstances receives Communion so, without inquiring, I've come to assume that he is a seeker. Alex and I started out talking about a friend of his who moved to America several years ago. This friend initially sent money back to Ukraine to support his family and friends but, as he began to make more money, he sent less and less home. Alex wanted me to tell him why. With no answer to give to such a particular and relative question, we moved on to his questions about why Hollywood always portrays Russia as the enemy and so on.

At the very end of the conversation, however, Alex broke down as he expressed his appreciation that we would make the sacrifice to move to Ukraine and to learn the language and culture in order to serve the people here. He said he didn't understand why, but he appreciated it — and he walked away with tears in his eyes. In spite of the discouragement that comes when you have a hard time understanding and/or communicating with someone, moments like these are used by the Spirit to encourage and remind us that God is using our efforts and sacrifices to impact peoples lives.

But those efforts and sacrifices seem particularly small when compared to the sacrifices of the early American Evangelical missionaries. Having just finished the Spring 2006 issue of Christian History & Biography, focusing on Adoniram and Ann Judson, it seems wrong to consider myself a missionary. It takes us about 24 hours, doorstep to doorstep, to get from our apartment in Kyiv to the home of a loved one in America. It took the Judsons four months. We are learning Russian with the help of endless resources, teachers and locals who know English quite well. The Judsons had to learn Burmese from scratch, develop a usable grammar and translate the Bible themselves. We are serving a Church and a seminary that are primarily run by Ukrainians in a country with 2,800 Evangelical Churches and several hundred thousand Evangelical believers. When the Judsons arrived in Burma, there were no Churches and no believers. We communicate with our family and friends regularly, via telephone, e-mail, blogs, CDs and DVDs full of pictures and videos, and visits from home or to home when possible. The Judsons had to wait for the rare occasion when a tradesman who could hand-carry their correspondences back to America would pass through, and they rarely visited home or received visitors. We have a wonderful missionary sending agency that takes care of us very well and has been around for decades. The Judsons were sent out only two years after the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions was founded; they were among its first missionaries. Our life seems pretty good by comparison.

2012 will mark the 200-year anniversary of when the Judsons left for Burma. Incalculable progress has been made in the quantity and quality of missions and in the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. I consider it a divine privilege to be part of the missionary endeavor of the universal Church and particularly part of the heritage of American Evangelical missions that began with the Judsons. And I thank our many, many supporters for making it possible for us to serve in Ukraine – even if, by comparison, we don't seem like real missionaries.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Just a Glimpse

Seminary is in session and my blog output has dropped significantly. Nevertheless, I've been carrying something around with me for weeks that must be shared. Here she goes …

Being a father is wonderful beyond description. It is amazing to feel and express my love toward our little Dietrich and to watch him react and respond to us. To see him grow and develop is to witness a miracle in process. To pray for him with Josie is a privilege as well as an exercise in projection. I want for Dietrich things that I've either had and lost, tried for and failed to reach or, on occasion, never thought of desiring for myself. But with only 4.5 months behind him, Dietrich has his whole life ahead of him and I want him to pursue it with a passion that brings joy to himself and glory to God. It's a lot to put on the shoulders of a little boy, I know, but since he can't even recognize himself in a mirror yet, I'm confident that I'll obtain some parental realism before my hopes and dreams have too adverse an affect on him.

The point is that I have love for Dietrich that I didn't know I had. It's a different kind of love than I have for my wife, obviously, but I didn't know it would be so obviously different. And the realization of this new, paternal love hit me like a sledgehammer a few weeks ago when we took Dietrich in for his immunizations. The same thing happened when he received immunizations a few weeks after he was born, but the repetition confirmed it. As I sat there, holding Dietrich in my arms, which gave him a sense of safety and security, I dreaded the inevitable moment when the nurses would stick the needles in his legs and he would scream out in shock and pain, onto which I would project feelings of betrayal and forsakenness. My son shouldn't have to be in such pain and I am the one responsible for it. Nothing in years has made me cry (in the bad way) quicker than when I offer my son to the ladies with the needles and then, instantly, he begins to cry in a way that he only does when I offer him up to be pierced. I feel as though I've betrayed him and hurt him and as though the blame for his suffering lies squarely on my shoulders. After the injections, Josie and I hold him and talk to him and do what we can to calm him down. But for days I feel the weight of that moment. Even with all of Josie's reassurances that it was done for his good — all of which I consciously understand and comprehend, but that just don't remove the pain from Dietrich or myself — I feel an emotional pain that far outweighs the physical pain of a few shots. It's horrible, absolutely horrible.

But in the end, Dietrich is human, he's fallen and lives in a fallen world. While innocent from a human standpoint, he needs Christ's sacrifice as much as the rest of us do. These spiritual realities notwithstanding, I can hardly bear to see him suffer — even when it's for his own good! Just think what our Heavenly Father must have felt when His perfect, innocent (humanly and spiritually) and beloved Son suffered and died. And He did not die for any benefit to Himself, but for our benefit. In my newly discovered paternal love for my son, I've gained greater respect and awe for the Father's love of His Son, and will offer deeper praise and adoration to Him for His sacrifice of His Son on our behalf.

"He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." II Co. 5:21